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Grambo Awakes

On a road trip with a group of women.  They were bored of me.  I decided to take off on my own, and wanted to make a case for myself with a bright idea.  I dyed millet seeds red and green, gave each color a discrete electrostatic charge, and blew it all into the wind, where it sought its proper place in the charged design I had hung in the air.  It made floating art, much like the trailing messages pulled by airplanes over wildly populated beaches and other crazily attended venues in the twentieth century of this planetary habitation.  When it tired of itself, like I often did of me being me, and fell to the ground, it seeded millet, a whole new round of greenery for the habitat to enjoy.

Then I took off for home and a new round of fanciful doings.  Why should I, having learned so much and lived so long, just give up and reconcile myself to being old?  There is too much to do, and I have nothing left but time.  I might as well have some fun.  By the way, what did the sign say?  “GRAMBO AWAKES.”

That was what I did in my dreams the night of January 21, 2022.  What I did when indeed I awoke the next morning was to remember what I had written back in 2011.  I hopped on my Microsoft Pavillion and kicked it into sentient service.  There it was!

~ ~ ~ Grambo ~ ~ ~

What the world needs is a wonder-woman.  Her name will be Grambo.  The challenge is to create a superhero based, not on a mild-mannered male with a penchant for lurking in telephone booths, but on a gloriously mature female of the species, who is coincidentally a mother of three, grandmother of seven, and great-grandmother still catching and counting.  Once a geeky kid, now an old lady, who still gets off on learning, she at last fits together the collective insights of a lifetime into her very own theory of everything.  Making a place for herself in traditional science and engineering seems at last irrelevant to her understanding of what’s what.  As she is presented with heroic challenges, she meets them with passion, intuition, and grace.  Long a trail-breaker in fields of male endeavor, turning over every rock and cow pie, questioning absolutely everything, she confronts the strictures of psychological assessment, trying to give delusions of grandeur a good name.  Always ahead of her time, she struggles with peer derision, self-doubt, and the tyranny of the normal.  She obviously has something interesting going on.  Slowly it becomes clear that it is simply what every ovarian human has in her personal tool-chest.  She is fully, unapologetically  female.  She celebrates using both sides of her brain that dance a consistent do-si-do, her corpus callosum providing a robust bridge for cross-talk.  She decides to prove that women, far from being the weaker sex, are in many ways the stronger.  Having spent nearly a lifetime wishing she were good enough, she discovers that she and her sisters are actually on the path to becoming the wise ones.  Armed with this empowerment, she leads women to redeem the men in their lives as they, finally in true partnership, move the species toward a new way to walk in beauty and balance.

Along the way, she will experience all the afflictions of age and meet them with humor, wisdom, and courage.  Joint replacements will be greeted as blessings of technology, leading to bionic inevitability.  When she finally must accept a wheelchair, it will be a jet-powered one that she rides like a wheeled steed that leaps tall buildings leaving a con-trail of haiku verse. Afflicted with the dementia of age, she in a last gasp of creativity will write a computer program that extends her viable intellect far into a functioning future of otherwise Q-signified oblivion. Death is anticipated and accepted.  She pre-writes her own obituary and designs a funerary event for the ages, wherein family is cherished, consoled, and challenged, and her grand adventure is memorialized, tongue stuck in cheek and fire stoked in belly.

This should be good for a long run of sequelae and will surely be snapped up by Paramount for a run of feature films, complete with action figures, toys, and video game franchises.  Grambo will at long last rest in peace, but not before she haunts multiple generations of progeny with reminders to follow Nike’s winning slogan; “Just Do It”.

                                                                    * * *

When first I became a grandmother, I was freaked by the whole proposition.  I agreed to the job, but only if I could have a title that guided me and my excellent progeny to a whole and healthy understanding of what it means to be an exemplary matriarch.  We shook on it.  Lissa, Brianna, and Jimmy were to address me as Grambo, or I kept on reading.  Remington and Gunner followed.  Then there was Jackson and Daisy (recently changed to Archer, a name she decided would be less limiting to her capabilities).  I have high hopes for this army of Grambo’s Grands.

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Isetta

My husband Jim was big on toys.  He had nine guns, and at the time in question, three cars.  Had we been affluent, that might have played, but we were quite poor.  On that day Jim insisted that I should take the Isetta in to town since the Fairlane’s transmission was down, and he must of course have the truck.

Why did he own an Isetta?  I don’t know.  I’m not sure even he had a reason.  It was a fraught vehicle.  To get in, you must swing open the entire front of the enclosure, a door that pivoted on hinges that lined up out of any perpendicularity with gravity, which made the opening and closing of it a challenge.  Once in and seated, the task was to motivate it to proceed.  How to do anything was a question since everything was unusual—located in a unique and ambiguous place.

I figured out how to get it started, how to put it into gear, and finally how to propel it down the road.  The day’s business in town at long last accomplished, I found the weird little automobile, easy to locate, since it stuck out like a blue and throbbing thumb, perched on wheels, and waiting in the parking lot.  Twilight was gathering, so it was imperative that I locate the running lights before heading home.  There was no button, switch, lever, or any actuator at all that might facilitate illumination of progress for this very unique conveyance.  I looked simply everywhere.  By the time I was done searching, it was dead dark. 

I had four miles to go before I could park this problem and call it a day.  Home seemed a long way off.  There was nothing for it but to go.  The engine purred.  Inside the vehicle, dash lights reflected a green glow from whatever lurked inside.  That was me and my somewhat sickly face, as I piloted the odd little wheeled cube of painted metal out of the lot and onto the roadway. 

There was no moon, but I could make out road-signs if they were brightly painted.  It felt strange to roll along the asphalt, engine purring, cloaked in invisibility.  No need to fear the fuzz.  They couldn’t see me.  I was a phantom.  In town, the streetlights made all the difference.  As I pulled onto the four-lane, I decided to wait for a long space between vehicles before I committed to being there at all.  The half mile on US Route 50E passed quickly, and I was soon enough off onto Pullman Road where traffic was occasional.  County Road 74 was a tiny thoroughfare to Pullman, West Virginia, that used to be called “the nine-foot pavement,” which was a good descriptor.  When it graduated from being a dirt and gravel road to being paved, all the County would allow it was nine miserable feet of width.  It was better than mud, but not much.  Sometime in the last decade, Ritchie County had given in to constituent complaints to the extent that the byway was widened to twelve.  I was rolling down it, a dark phantom, tires quietly shussing along cold black-top.  Meeting anyone at all required that somebody give way.  I was more than ready to move off the pavement should I meet oncoming.  It was up to me, for how could approaching traffic give way to what it could not see?

Obidiah Johnson was a drinker.  Everybody knew that.  His biggest aim in life was to put off getting sober.  That would be a problem.  Nobody knew what he was trying to forget, but it must have been a doozy.  He had, long ago, lost any permission to drive a vehicle, whether highway licensed or farm-to-market.  His daily trip into town was to get liquored up.  Everybody knew that as well.  It was only after his desired state of inebriation was achieved that he would slide off his stool and slog away into the night toward home.

The evening in question was not an exception.  He plodded his way down the highway berm, took a muddy shortcut to 74 where he would enjoy the convenience of pavement all the way to warm bed and oblivion.  Once on the hard concrete, he smiled, stretched arms and vertebrae, and head tilted back, looked for the moon.  There wasn’t any.  “Oh, well,”  he acquiesced and proceeded to weave his way down the road toward home.

That was when our paths very nearly crossed.  I didn’t see him, except to watch a green tinged body of light arc away from what might have been my right fender if I had had one, and disappear into the ditch.  I did not [Slow];  I did not [Stop];  I did not pass [Go]; And I did not [Collect] anything but a lump in my throat.  Strange enough, I finally made it to [Home] without collecting anything at all—even a ticket. 

The next day Obidiah strode in for his daily round at Jake’s Bar.  It was just about the same as every other day, but there was something different—a quickness to his step that wasn’t a feature of his usual gait.  When he found his accustomed stool waiting, he claimed it with a flourish of authority.  He had something to add to the conversation.

“Gimmie my usual,” he barked, a note of confidence having crept into his usual whine.  When his pint arrived, he pulled a satisfying slurp of foam from about the rim of the mug, swallowed,  and sucked a satisfying breath.  “You’ll never guess what happened to me last night.”—Here he paused for effect— “I was attacked by a spaceship.”

Jake and the usual crew all did a double-take.  Had Obadiah flipped his lid?  They gathered round, wondering what this could be about.  He wasn’t in a hurry and spent some time thinking as he alternated between raising his pint, sipping, then settling it carefully onto the napkin,  turning it round and round as he gazed into an unfocused distance.  Then, with a bit of encouragement, Obadiah finally gave up his story: 

“I was a’comin’ home last night, when what did I see, but a spaceship a’follerin’ after me.  It went behind, keepin’ close in case I wuz to get away.  I hurried, but oh it was fast.  It kept a’gittin’ closer, ‘til it fair caught up t’ me.  T’was close.  Close as you to me.  I could see them-there critters inside—one maybe two.  Green they wuz, with eyes like you an me an a nose an a mouth to boot.  I was plum skeered o’ dyin’.  I jumped—near like unto I wuz a frog.  It tried t’ git me, but it missed.  I jumped and ran fast—faster than it could hope to grab a’hold a’ me.  It missed, and I landed in the swale down where Landen’s cow-path meets up with ol’ man Harper’s field o’ sweet corn.  I hid fer a bit, waitin’ lest the Martians git out and hunt me up and do who-knows-what ta who.  I don’t know what they wuz about, but I never let ‘em git me.  I heert the sound o’ the ship flyin’ away.  Quiet-like.  Jes’ a low growl.  Mad that it missed me and lookin’ for somthinorother somethin’ to grab onto and do whatever it was a’wantin’ to do to it.”

The group at Jake’s was accommodating and appreciative of Obadiah’s reporting.  They spent most of that night, and part of the next, asking him questions, listening to his opinions, and hanging on his suppositions as if they carried the weight of earth’s gravity newly ripped from the talons of celestial marauders.

I heard about the alien invasion next time I attended the Farm Woman’s Club monthly potluck, and was amazed along with everybody else.  I had been planning to complain to the other longsuffering wives about my husband’s penchant for collecting multiple vehicles, but decided to let well-enough alone.  How could I spoil Obadiah’s first, last, and only chance in this world to be famous?

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Advent Blessing

Life breaks me open.

The I am must be known.

Too quiet is this solitude.

Thoughts yearn to speak,

but image meaning      

in my world alone,

where all in quiet waits,

clear as star straked sky,

all questing answered

in compassionate reply,

snowflakes of forgiveness

that slake the coals of rage.

*

Know me God.  I live.

Conserve what truth is me.

Enfold me. Hold me.

Let anguish steal away,

with blessing part,

for sorrow, my old friend

cannot but be missed.

What will keep me then,

when sadness slips away?

Grief has been my constant,

my anchor, and my stay.

*

And yet…

*

Is there an Advent halo

circling my heart?

Breath of baby Jesus?

Blessings from a byre?

Caress of maiden mother

smoothing silken brow?

All reach across the aching years

and bid me also laugh and live.

*

It must be bells of Christmas ringing,

tolling out my name,

mythos cast from melt of years,

happiness distilled from tears.

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Soul

You and I have a soul.  Animals don’t.  That’s the common understanding believed by a great many people.  But what about Homo Erectus?  Neanderthalus?  At what point in evolution toward homo-sapiens-sapiens did humanity become soulful?  I contend that there was no precise juncture in that incremental transformation at which he magically became the soul-mate of Divinity.

It is the ultimate hubris to claim that my beloved dog Maggie had no soul.  She climbed on top of me inside a freezing vehicle to keep me alive through one long stranded night while outside sub-zero temperatures plummeted and my teeth wouldn’t stop chattering.  My dog loved me, and I loved her.  How could she not have had a soul?

What speaks to my own spirit self is belief that life is expression of the Divine, beginning with single celled organisms and growing into the majestic Tree of Life, culminating in our claim to be human beings.  Biblical writers scribe of human creation in the image and likeness of God.  I can go along with that as metaphor, but only if creation is postulated to be progression by whatever algorithm, toward increasingly complex speciation.

Religious scriptures rhapsodize about God being love.  Who is it that does the loving?  Mammalian mothers do it for sure.  They bond with their issue as they offer leaking nipples to squalling newborns and watch them respond with the ecstasy of full bellies.  Spiders, who as an expression of sexual satiety munch their inseminators as well as sometimes even their young, surely make poor lovers.  Perhaps they feel a spasm of affection at the moment of joining—or not. For them, maybe love is simply the exquisite twinge of lust they sense as they are drawn toward their supreme biological imperative—however grotesque.

Fish lay eggs and swim away, as do reptiles.  Perhaps it’s cold blood that doesn’t lend itself to affection.  Worms, bisexual and not caring who knows it, copulate in a paroxysm of mutual union while they exchange sperm to fertilize the eggs they have each placed in their conjoined nest.  While they may have shared a true affection for each other, the fertilized eggs are left to fend for themselves. Love ‘em and leave ‘em seems to be standard nematode behavior, not the basis for any God-like lovingkindness.  In their defense, how lacking any arms, would they care for progeny?  On average, a worm will produce two thousand offspring per annum.  With such spectacular fecundity, it seems reasonable to leave legacy to statistics. Can it be that only Mammalia achieve souls?  If only animals that can express love can contribute to the cloud of affection generated by living loving creatures, that might be the cat’s last meow on the subject.

The same is certainly true for us, crowns of creation.  “I love you,” he says as he grips his dearest engorged appendage, “And I you,” she replies, eyelids lowered and fluttering.  Do they really believe such declarations?  Perhaps at the final consummation of things they do, sharing what is often coined la petite mort—the small death.  Or are they merely attracted to their attraction to each other?  Such brittle affections lead to the sort of adoration that causes spiders to dine on Dearie.  Beware.  Friendship is the highest ideal, with agape finding its way, if indeed at all.

Love as Holy Spirit might be considered to have its inception as life morphs into the complexity that specifies nerves, and the passing of electrical charges down axons, across synaptic gaps, and into bundles of neurons that claim to be brains.  Like any electric current moving through a conductor, it induces a magnetic field around and about itself.  That magnetic field is powerful and capable of inducing corresponding urges in neighboring conductors.  Conglomerations of such induced magnetisms in metal have spawned a planet-circling technology of electronic amazements that thrill and excite, as well as control every aspect of human culture and economy.

As life builds upon itself, summation of that inductive complexity might be understood as “God,” a Deity I can relate to.  On Sol’s third planet, life has bloomed into what ancient Greeks named Gaia, now defined by some as the concatenation of all aspects of our planet.  I concur but fail to understand how a rock could contribute to any lively inductions unless perhaps it was ferrous in composition.  For me, the line between soul and not-soul has to be drawn between life and not-life.  My handy compass is smart, but though it is tweaked by the magnetic field of earth, it has no soul.  Conversely, the lowly worm that proceeds endlessly through the turf of my lawn does have a soul, and if he were to evolve through future eons, he would discover himself to be the pattern on which much of complex life will have progressed. 

Anatomists love to mention the obvious pattern of animal biology, whether lowly or evolved, as being a tube within a tube.  That night-crawler in your bait bucket might even develop a swell head, if he had one at all.  A least he knows which way to progress through the loam, a bit of knowledge which presupposes differentiation of head vs tail.  Worms don’t crawl backward.  The rest is a recapitulation of Darwinian progression.  It was Earnst Haekel who wrote “The ontogeny recapitulates the phylogeny.”  He was explaining that in any embryo, growth and transformation reenacts the progression of the entire species.  As I sorted myself out, cozy in my mother’s uterus, my blastocyst tried out gills before it settled on lungs.  If such patterns can be observed on Earth, surely they would hold true on other worlds.

As life develops on other planets circling other suns, equivalent physical laws should apply no matter where in the universe of stars that life might arise.  God as spirit would surely bloom again based even on a wholly different molecular architecture, such as being built on silicone rather than carbon.  However construed, love would surely arise and declare itself.  As extraterrestrials dominate their planets and come to express the music of their little green souls, they will surely find a way to proclaim that God is love.

The best way to relax and think loving thoughts on this beautiful green earth is to seek out nature.  What makes nature so peaceful is that there are no people.  Animals as well as the pretty scenery, have a calming effect on humans.  That is true even though we and they sometimes eat other critters.  We seem to forgive them that indiscretion since it is in their animal nature to eat what they eat.  People think mean thoughts, and worse still, they cause us to think horribilities of our own. If the only way we can walk in beauty is to be alone in the wilderness, humanity is surely over. 

People who mistreat animals are less than good people.  They are evil, but they don’t become all bad all at once.  Like evolution, it takes time.  Is that what devolution is about?  What about axe murderers?  They are generating as much feeling as those who sing songs of love and joy, but they hate and rage instead.  Is there an unclean spirit to be produced by unkind thoughts and deeds?  Such a question is reminiscent of being cautioned by my mother to watch out for the Ol’ Devil.  Surely such concerns of the ancients must have led to conflict between positive vs negative concepts of spirit.  Most people aren’t easily categorized.  What about those mean girls back in high school, and the ubiquitous bullies?  They must have grown up to be solid citizens who adore their daughters, sons, and puppies.  If all sentient creatures are pumping out complex feelings, Satanic as well as Divine, what kind of thundercloud of Spirit might be gathering—to what effect? 

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Subliminal Associations

Al Gore may have invented the internet, but I invented Facebook.  Sure, I know it’s a stretch.  The straight scoop: I have long mused about the benefit of making of my life an open book.  For instance, what if every time I spoke about another person, that person could see and hear my statement?  That would no doubt mellow my words.  Do you often sense that you are a different person depending on whom you are addressing?  That can be a problem if you are suddenly with two people.  Which you will you be then?  Could that be the root of social anxiety?  It is scary to be real with a whole bunch of different people all at once.  Whom then might you be?

The obvious solution to this dilemma is Facebook, or something remarkably like it.  Assiduous utilization of such an asset can and surely will force users toward an integration of self.  Every comment must be weighed against the perceptions of everybody else, not just the person seated before you.  Methinks it is a conspiracy to civilize an uncivil society.  There have been worse plots.  This one I like!

In a recent dream I was riding around and about the farm with my oldest son in his 4-x-4.  We had been sitting in a meadow marveling at how green was the grass and how lovely the wildflowers.  Then bumping along in the vehicle we passed into a dark glade that fed into a rocky defile, that then degenerated quickly down an impossibly rough and boulder strewn path, down, down, down into a deep pool.  The water was still and strewn with floating vegetation and debris.  Dale persevered, assuring me that his truck was up to the challenge.  He pressed on, rolling into the water, but soon we were floating, the truck having become a boat with us holding on and swimming.  The long green strands of vegetation tangled with my treading feet and felt like slithering snakes.  I begged Dale to do something, anything, but he wasn’t afraid.  Dale is never afraid.  He said to just keep paddling.  We curved around the periphery, round and round, clearing away the greenery as we plowed through the water, using the truck as our blunt force object.  Several turns around and the pond was clean. 

He restarted the engine, gained some traction and up we went onto the far shore, chugging our way up the steep embankment.  This side was open, clear of trees and shrubs.  It was mostly domesticated fields, meadows, and pasture.  Dale explained that he needed to speak with a man in the community we were approaching.  The buildings were weathered and grey.  Many new structures had been attached to the existing ones.  Those were woven of grass on three sides, as well as the roofs, and affixed to the old houses and barns.  They were useless, without strength, either tensile or compressive.  They stood merely as concepts, delineating what might have been built, had circumstances been different.  Maybe they were only dreams or visions.

While Dale kept his meeting, I loitered, wandering into one of the large unmarked buildings.  It was a ladies lingerie emporium, with a luxuriant display of unmentionables.  Every item I noticed just happened to be my exact size, even the high heeled velvet boots I lasciviously admired.  There were too many colors to count, and they all were of complimentary shades, but the colors comprising individual garments were strangely combined.  I pulled out a pair of shimmery sea-green panties, and was amazed to see they were copiously decorated with brown lace.  I put them back, puzzled, and began to wonder what is “a pair” about panties.  Why are they sold as a pair, since they have no legs, only holes?  A pair of jeans makes good sense, with two good legs to make a legitimate pair of something to sell, even if only in concept.  Women must be pretty silly to pay good money for a pair of holes, no matter how decorously festooned with lace their apertures.

When I awoke it occurred to me that dreams are useful for sorting out quandaries that complicate our waking hours and defy any integration into what we understand about being alive in the world.  We seem to work harder asleep than awake.  Can’t we ever get any well-earned rest?  Also it would help if we could worry in sleep about things that really matter, rather than second-guessing the work product of distaff under garment designers.

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Child Mind

Jesus said: “Verily I say unto you. Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”  What does that mean?  What is it at core that sets the mind of a child apart from our own?  Children are first of all vulnerable.  They are open to any skullduggery, and are helpless to affect any change.  They perceive their position in the universe as children of parent gods.  Here they are, due to absolutely no fault of their own. 

Beginning at this rock bottom disadvantage, they must climb up and away.  The humility of lying turtle-like on backs awaiting milk and dry diapers suggests the beatific.  But even a child can’t maintain that posture for long.  In the benevolent order of things, diapers are no longer needed, and sleeping through the night is a lovely achievement.  Healthy child narcissism struggles with innate helplessness to presage the future adult.  Somewhere in there a turning point lurks.  An intact adult ego is hopefully the result.

Depending on upbringing, children are likely to be optimistic.  With most of life’s abuse still ahead of them, they have little memory of evil.  They expect more of the good stuff.  Our entire culture conspires to create the idea of lovely things coming down sooty chimneys to fill hopefully hung stockings.  Christmas was made for children. 

The Buddha made much of beginner’s mind.  A clean slate is universally revered.  A mind that is overrun with pre-conceptions is not likely to see the new with any clarity.  Everybody knows that a clean white sheet of paper speaks to the soul.  All hearts leap up when thoughts of September school supplies cross the mind.  A shiny new pencil, a pristine yet-to-be-opened pack of notebook paper, or a brand new book engenders an inner happiness recognized by any and all.  A child’s mind awaits incipient amazements yet a-birth.  It visions possibility in even the stub of a crayon.

Children are unlikely to have caused harm, and for a while at least, are happily guilt free.  The adults in their lives quickly disabuse them of that mindset, minions of guilt hanging from every tree and shrub.  Soon even the most gentle and pious of children learn to shoulder their load of self-retribution and inner loathing.

Children tend toward honesty.  This doesn’t mean they will starve before they steal an apple; it means they are willing to own their own hunger.  Like any home-grown Texan, they tell it like it is.  They start with a nascent veracity and proceed.  What is more honest than the first cry of a newborn?  Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Vulnerable, humble, optimistic, guileless, honest.  It’s easy to see why Jesus admired kids.  He also spoke to the possibility of conversion—change for the better.  Real friends help you be a better person.  If they fail that basic test, dump them.  Aging with its incipient second childhood may be a blessing in disguise.  Now as I enjoy “A Place for Mom” due to my son Lane’s contriving to organize my progeny into a mom assistance pact, I am reminded of Lane as a small boy, on a family road trip through the Nevada desert.  We stopped for gas and a round of pop.  Of course we each dropped a quarter into the convenient one-armed-bandit.  When Lane plunked his in, he hit the jackpot.  Then we had to wait while he gathered his loot and spent it, every penny of it, on presents for everybody else.  It’s delightful to see the goodness of childhood carry over into a staunch, generous, and beautiful manhood.

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No Sex

Asked to speak with a group of young women interested in STEM careers about what it was like to break into tech as a women oh-so-many years ago, I offered a few of my essays on that fraught subject to begin a dialogue.  The response was “Too much sex.  We are just interested in the work itself.”

My response was a total agreement.  It was way too sexual.  That was the big problem when women dared to suggest that we could do work available only to men.  Everything got to be gender-charged in a hurry.  In those days, it was being female that incited most of the problems. 

It reminds me of a dastardly job interview where after the interviewer and I were finished talking and rose to leave the office, he stood to reveal his zipper down, and underwear askew, though he was oblivious.  Whatever had he been doing behind his desk as he spoke at length with a female job applicant?  I asked that we wait a moment and requested that he tuck and zip before leaving the office.  He looked down, flushed red, and grabbed his crotch.  Yes, he was being much too sexual, pleasuring himself at my expense, while I spoke earnestly about my years of working as an engineer in various corporations, asking to be considered for serious work at the one he represented.  I was not a sex worker, but he had used me as if I were.  I left, happy to have learned—before signing any employment contract—that job was not for me.

Most job interviews were at least respectful if not serious.  In those days, I was often told that no woman was appropriate to the task, and would leave quietly.  What good would it do to fuss?  But there came a time when the law of the land caught up with all that.  I applied for an advertised position as Manufacturing Engineer at Murdock Machine and Manufacturing Company in Dallas.  The interviewer led me across the machine shop floor where catcalls approved my shapely legs.  He explained that as a woman I would never be able to deal with those bawdy workers and their technical problems.  He asked me if I could type, suggesting that if only I could type he would put me to work in the contract department.  I thanked him and left.  Then I drove to the EEOC where I sued his manly outfit and won a $60,000 payout plus a job offer.  The EEOC found the man they hired to be far less qualified.  I declined their job offer but gladly accepted their money, smiling all the way to the bank.

One of the beautiful things I helped improve for today’s young ladies presenting themselves as engineering applicants is an expectation of being taken seriously.  They deserve that, as did I, but I had to work very hard to achieve it.  While today’s sexual harassment is more subtle and sophisticated, it is still a problem in this millenium’s workplace.  Though there is no doubt that the young women applying for today’s STEM positions are worthy competitors, it is still a man’s world.  A woman’s place in it must still be fought for and won.

The young ladies puzzled about my early work history are correct.  Engineering is most assuredly not about sex.  But if I reconstructed my early mis-adventures, castrating the gender angst that often accrued to them, it would excise the irony that made them so compelling.  Worse still—it wouldn’t be true.

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The Letter

My last letter from Judy was written from her hospital bed.  She explained how Wesson had beaten her—again—this time breaking three ribs and both bones of a forearm.  That arm was in a cast, her left one, a fortunate break since that left her good right arm capable of scratching out the letter.  She explained that Wesson was finally history.  As soon as she got better she would go see her lawyer and change her will.  She planned to leave her entire estate to me and cut Wesson out completely.  Of course she would be divorcing him, at long last.  Judy had lost count of how many times she had suffered his fractures and contusions.  She had long ago explained about how it was impossible to operate a serious business without Wesson to sign papers.  In 1963 Texas, women were just barely viable as persons. 

MacNeil’s Fashion Corner, an upscale ladies ready-to-wear emporium, so recently expanded to a newer grander venue was her personal creation, with Wesson doing nothing but serving as a front so it could function legally.  No matter how profitable her enterprise, whenever she needed to borrow money from the bank for product or real-estate expansion, after she had negotiated the terms of the agreement and shaken hands with the bank president, her husband was required to appear and make it shimmer legally in the Lone Star State.  Wesson R. MacNeil, not Jewel J. MacNeil, sealed every contract.

I shuddered, sensing the pain she must have been suffering and worried that he might do even worse when she returned home, still hurting.  Judy had emphysema, a result of all those many years of puff, puff, puffing on the cigarettes that she bought economically by the carton.  Judy wouldn’t be Judy without a dirty weed hanging from her lips.  There was no empathy from me on that score.  I had no idea how the nicotine pleasured her and felt only guilt despising a stupid habit that was surely killing her. 

It was only a few days after receiving the letter that my phone rang.  I grabbed it to hear Uncle CJ advising me of the worst.  Judy had returned home to heal and was found dead the very next morning.  CJ, as her eldest brother, was notified before noon by a Dallas County Sheriff’s Deputy.  Wesson claimed no knowledge of what had happened, but her pillow was found on the floor, not underneath her head.  The Medical Examiner certified emphysema to be the probable cause of death.  Respiratory phlegm smeared onto the pillow might have been collected as she was smothered by a violent attacker, or it could have been from fighting to breathe her last due to a terminal illness.  There was no knowing.  With no obvious proof or motive, who could say?

I was speechless, my head swimming.  I thanked Uncle CJ for letting me know and hung up the receiver.  I retrieved her letter from my dresser drawer and read through it again.  Of course Wesson had killed her.  Maybe I should send the letter with its postmarked envelope to CJ so he could take it to the Sheriff and file charges.  Maybe I should go to Texas myself and fight for her in person.  But whatever could I actually do?  I determined to keep the letter, the last memory of my dear Aunt who had loved me enough to give me a home and had intended even to provide for my future.  I would wait awhile and decide after thinking it through.

As tears chased each other down my cheeks I shuddered, imagining Judy smothered by her own pillow, under the fists of Wesson, my old nemesis.  What if he decided to kill me too?  Schoolwork had me already buried, preparing for college finals, and I couldn’t bring Judy back to life, no matter what I did.

Weeks went by, and when I answered the phone and again heard Uncle CJ’s drawl crawling out of the receiver, he explained that Wesson had married one of his neighbors only two months after Judy’s funeral.  That was a solid motive for wanting his wife dead in the ground.  I mentioned my recent letter from her, but CJ seemed depressed and distracted, just wanting to reach out to somebody who also had loved his sister.  We commiserated awhile, said our goodbyes, and hung up.

Months later I decided to look for the letter, but couldn’t find it.  It was nowhere—nowhere at all.  How could I possibly have lost it?  I’d been puzzling over why I had been thinking somebody else would avenge her death.  It was surely my job, and I had failed her.  She was too young to die—only fifty-five.  But then, there was no use going to Texas and raisin’ a ruckus, even if I scared up the money for a ticket.  Who would believe me anyhow?

Even all these many years later, whenever I poke about among my old papers, I always wonder if I might somehow turn up that fateful letter.  If ever I do, I will head for Dallas, even if I have to ride the dogs.  I need to find that Sheriff’s successor and fold that missive firmly into his hand.  I’ll explain that in 1963 I was just a stupid kid who didn’t know enough to step up when it was my turn to make things right.  Of course in 2021 Wesson is long dead, and his punishment is no longer up to me. 

Sure enough, an Internet lookup showed that Wesson Richardson MacNeil breathed for seventeen more years until 1980, and then he died.  He had to live all those many years with the guilty knowledge that he was a murderer, and murder has no statute of limitations—even in an oddball jurisdiction like Dallas County.  Of course a man like Wesson isn’t capable of guilt. Even so, the world needs to learn what happened to Jewel Josephine Tyson so she can rest in peace.  MacNeil might be a moniker gleefully discarded, her maiden name of Tyson reassumed.  It was interesting to notice the photo of her headstone posted online says only “Daughter.”  No mention of “Loving Wife” was inscribed to grace the headstone of this long married woman who had suffered so much at the hands of Wesson Richardson MacNeil.  Perhaps it would have cost money better spent for his upcoming nuptials.

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There is no final exit so demeaning as being nibbled to death by a duck.  Why might that be?  I may be on the verge of discovering the answer to that age-old question.  I seem to be haunted by ducks, mallard ducks specifically, and worry that when I die, my afterlife will continue to be the object of some specter duck’s incessant nattering haunt.

For me it all started when I was two and found an Easter duckling in my basket along with the colored eggs and jelly beans.  It was my daddy’s doing.  He loved me more than I deserved since I was a fountain of misbehavior if my mommy was to be believed.  I loved that duck.  It was soft and yellow, and very dear.  He was little; I was big.  I wanted to speak with him but was uncertain about how.  My animal books said that cows go moo, dogs go woof, and ducks go quack.  My duck wouldn’t quack.  He was a bad duck.  I determined to make him quack so he would be a good duck.  I worried about how best to influence him toward behaving properly.  When the answer came to me in a flash of glorious insight, I set the duck on the ground, put a board on top of him, and stood on the board.  He would surely quack.  But he didn’t.

That memory came charging back into consciousness yesterday when I locked horns with Melissa Shrimplin, the program manager at the JCC (Jewish Community Center) where I am spending my days learning how to be a happy healthy senior as I devolve into decrepitude.  There is much to be learned at the J, and I am determined to get it figured out, in spite of myself.

Things were going as well as could be expected, given my complex provenance, and Melissa’s creative programming efforts were exemplary.  Covid appeared to be at bay, and oldsters were returning as their confidence in vaccination status gave them the will to socialize.  That was when the ducks showed up—again.  It was a mother mallard trailing a clutch of cuties dressed in speckled down.  She, with her newly hatched brood, was trapped inside the atrium of the JCC and she wanted out.  She had flown in and could surely fly up and out, but the babies couldn’t.  It was time to lead those chicks to water, and the only available fluid was dyed green and pumped in an endless loop through a decorative vertical fountain.  The entire cadre was mounting an attack on the window glass surround, their frenzied barrage to absolutely no avail.  They repeatedly slammed feathered and fuzzied bodies against the invisible barrier.  They squawked, fluttered, righted themselves, and retreated to try yet again.

I muttered about the quandary and asked Melissa, the friendliest power figure in sight, to please get somebody to call the US Fish and Wildlife Service since they are empowered to resolve such situations.  She assured me that had been accomplished, and the babies would soon be relocated to a proper habitat.  I breathed with relief and proceeded with my senior day.

But many suns after that, finding myself in a pocket of time between activities, I wandered out into the atrium, remembering the ducks and glad they had found a forever home.  But as I strolled toward the far corner of the landscaped area admiring the healthy trees and bushes, what did I hear but a quack.  It was the mother duck—still there.  She quacked again—a reprise.  Then she flap-waddled out from beneath her cover, quacking to her brood to keep-the-quack-up-or- else.  I was aghast.  They were still stranded.  The only water was a concretized green puddle that offered no opportunities for teaching young how to dabble for food.  How could they grow up to be proper knowledgeable waterfowl?  Some kind JCC soul must have been feeding them or they would already have become dead ducks.

A normal response to this information would have been a mild exclamation of amazement, and on to other things.  But I have a history with this kind of poultry.  I remembered as a toddler killing my pet duckling out of human ignorance.  It is hard to be dumber than a duck, but I had qualified.  As I traversed all my many days, again and again I encountered ducks.  Shortly after moving to Boston, Massachusetts, a lovely blue sky day sent Mommy and me to Boston Commons where we enjoyed a ride on the famous Swan-Boats.  It was one of those never-to-be-forgotten kind of days.  Everywhere the boat putt-putted it was accompanied by swarms of mallards positioning themselves for gratuitous tidbits.  The fat torpedo shaped bodies glided smoothly across the water, stopping every few foot-paddles to pivot head-down/tail-up, browsing for underwater produce.  They seemed to prefer our bread crumbs though and always gladly forsook dabbling for begging.  Several mother hens had clutches of babies that followed with unerring loyalty.  It was impossible to witness their antics without smiling, making it a happy memory.

Months later the Christmas Fairy arranged for a new book to find its way under my family’s tree.  It was a 1941 first edition of Robert McKloskey’s book, “Make Way for Ducklings.”  It was a relief to find that my fowl murder hadn’t stunted the species.  Other ducklings had mother and father ducks who tried hard to keep them safe.  Even when the family made a mistake, humans were able to understand and help them move through danger to a perfect home beside the Charles River.  It was my perfect book, assuring me that mistakes could be forgiven, and everything could finally be OK.

Many years later my husband, Ken, and I made a home on Irvine, California’s Woodbridge Lake.  We chose the condo especially for its lake access, with a deck that allowed fishing from either the living room or from the dining room.  Such intimacy with the water was pure pleasure, and every night after dinner our favorite pastime was a holding-hands promenade around the lake.  Of course my mallards had made an appearance, though a continent away.  The mother birds understood that our deck was a safe place to hatch babies, and we enjoyed the annual parade of ducklings making their way down to try the water.

It was during that residence along the lakeshore that I learned about duck rape.  Ken and I observed on our evening walks that ducks don’t simply agree to mate.  Several drakes would surround a hen.  They would hold her head down on the ground, while one at a time other ducks would have at her.  It was scandalous.  I was discouraged to find that my cherished waterfowl were lacking in nobility.  I’m still hoping that it was just a California anomaly, and that species-wide such ignoble behavior is not a universal.

Nothing is ever perfect.  That was a good lesson to learn.  Expectations of perfection of myself, or of others, is foolish and sure to lead to disappointment.  We all manage to be pretty wonderful most of the time.  That applies to ducks, to JCC managers, and even to myself.  We could have enjoyed living into being McKlowsky heroes to our misplaced mallards, but I am the one with a duck issue.  To well-adjusted people they are just waterfowl.  The ducks are sure to understand and forgive.  So must I.

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Daddy

“I want my Daddy!” dreamtime-me cries to whatever enclosure encapsulates this happening.  It doesn’t answer.  Night terrors are interesting company but do not substitute for the real people we miss and want to revisit.  I am desperate to write about that larger than life man but procrastinate with every excuse imaginable.  I resist telling about his shadow side, not that it ever wished me ill or purposefully caused me harm.  Why then do I put this off?  I have written snippets of the whimsical father at home, sharing family fun, tutoring daughter determined to walk in his steps, later caring for aging mother.  That is easier than explaining how he forgot to divorce my own mother before he married, one after another, four other women.  Mommy and I were destitute.  She was stuck with a child to support, and no marketable skills beyond poetry and piano playing.  I was twisted into a love/hate dilemma with a Daddy who was long gone—fodder for night terrors.

But daytime memories are different. I open my front door and moan, “Just look at this mess.  There’s no way I’ll ever get it set to rights.  It’s impossible!”  That’s a lie we tell ourselves all too often when presented with a formidable task.  Of course a large and complex assignment is daunting.  Big jobs are like that.  They challenge; they intimidate; they terrorize— but they all have a secret weakness that is waiting to be exploited.  They can be subdivided into accessible units.  I learned this gem of wisdom from my inventor father, Kelsey, when during one joint endeavor I quailed at the prospect of turning a complex electronic schematic into a printed circuit board etch pattern.  “I’m not that smart,” I protested.  “It’s too complicated.”

“You’re smart enough,” Daddy insisted.  Anyway, you don’t have to be smart—just tricky.  He slid a pen from his always-at-the-ready pocket protector and began laying lines on the drawing.  When he was finished, the fraught circuit was understandable as several simpler, much less intimidating ones.  He labeled them for me so I could visualize how they interacted: Power Supply, Splitter, Invertor, Oscillator, Amplifier.  Suddenly I perceived the job as something doable.  Divide and conquer is more than an art of war.  It can focus energy to accomplish otherwise impossible tasks.

Back to the mess, detritus of a human family doing what it does so well.  As I dealt with the inherent mayhem of parenting three small children, I often reached back to access practical guidance remembered growing up in a tech-savvy family.  Daddy analyzed everything; only then he proceeded with what must be done, but he always gave it his own special twist. 

A typical example was fly-catching in the Martin household.  When the annoying drone of the buzzing invaders reached exasperation level, Kelsey Martin fly-tracker beyond compare donned his safari hat, plugged in the Hoover Vacuum with its extra-long extension tube and set out on a small-game safari.  He delighted in this creative play, experiencing the thrill of the hunt, the suspense of creeping up on an oblivious prey, and the final denouement of the kill, one more dastardly house-fly sucked into oblivion.  He would crow with triumph at every winged trophy pulled into and careening down the tube, through the hose, into the dust bag of history, consigned to non-existence as an entity that had lived for the sole purpose of annoying Kelsey Martin.

This escapade always attracted a following.  As Daddy prosecuted his war on flies, we kids trailed behind, a rowdy retinue, cheering, jeering, getting in the way, tripping over power cord and vacuum hose, wanting only to be part of this Pied Piper’s parade.  It didn’t matter that there was only one vacuum cleaner; and that it was only Daddy who wore the safari hat; our merry band followed, laughing all the way.

Any task that Daddy despised, he redefined.  He turned boring into fun.  Perhaps most memorable and long reaching was putting on his pants.  I would have learned the best way to insert legs into trousers long before I was fifteen had I not been living with my aunt and uncle in Texas.  Soon after arriving at my new Long Island home, Daddy enlightened me with respect to the art of putting on lower garments creatively.  “It’s an improved method,” he explained, “More efficient, easier on the low back, and fun to boot.”  He demonstrated: Sitting on the edge of the bed, positioning trousers waist agape, he folded knees to chest and leaned far, far back, as pants sailed aloft, thrusting both feet into their proper pant legs.  When he rolled forward into starting position, his pants were as good as on.  All that was needed was to stand, draw them up, button, zip, and buckle.  “There,” he exclaimed.  “That’s how it’s done.  It works the same for under-drawers or panties.  Leaning forward, while you’re lifting legs one at a time, can strain your back.  Not healthy”

OK.  I got the picture.  During the ensuing sixty-eight years, I have, every morning, put on my panties, bloomers, leggings, jeans, shorts, or slacks both legs at once.  It’s impossible to daily reenact this bit of whimsy without a smile, as I remember my dad earnestly explaining to a wide-eyed adolescent; how taking a creative approach to even the mundane chores of life can be the birthright of even a lost-and-found daughter.

All these many years later, I still despise housecleaning.  It’s boring.  It has to be done over and over again day after day after day—a quotidian quagmire.  No-one asks you to take a bow for how well you scrubbed the floor or folded diapers.  It’s a thankless task and not the least bit fun.  But then I invented “The Housecleaning Game.”  It changed everything.  Since it was a game, I convinced my children to play it with me, Tom Sawyer style.  That contrived to assure their cooperation, and it was easier and faster with extra hands helping.  I did learn from my Dad that work ought to be fun.  Any way a job can be structured to achieve that goal is worth any amount of up-front creative sweat effort.

So—I drew a floor plan layout of the entire house including furniture, and superimposed a grid over the entire drawing.  Next, I labelled each grid square.  Those labels, I copied onto paper squares, and loaded them into a tall, pottery jug, along with additional whimsical assignments such as: Eat five M&M’s; Take a 30 minute nap; Mop the kitchen floor; Sing a song; Run around the house twice; Have a spot of tea; Share three of your many blessings.

So far so good.  Each player must choose, eyes closed, a slip of paper from the dark interior of the jug.  There’s the possibility you may be instructed to munch sweets or perform calisthenics.  More likely you will get a grid square number.  This is the point at which you feel the weight of the impossible task lift from your shoulders.  You must address what is in your grid square and only that.  You may not do any work outside of that square.  Like an observant Jew savoring Sabbath rest, you are relieved of the guilt that naturally accrues to not performing the whole impossible task.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Must you do more?  I remember the fun of carefully making up the lower right quadrant of the bed, carefully eschewing the remaining three quadrants, which must, in the benevolent order of things, await their turn.

Like Daddy repeatedly said, “Most things aren’t impossible, only lacking imagination, an ingredient which is always in generous supply.”  But having an endless source of vision can be daunting, as night after night of dreams attests and revisits.  My job is to integrate both fathers—the one in my dreams, and the one in my nightmares—into what is right and real.  Then he can indeed rest in peace, and so can I.  Memorializing my Dad can surely be accomplished as long as I tell his story one complicated chapter at a time, and be sure to have fun doing it.

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